Psychologist Antonette M. Zeiss, chief consultant to the Office of Mental Health Services at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said overall incidence of PTSD does not appear to have changed across the wars we have fought in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, nor has the severity of symptoms.
"Since diagnosis of PTSD was not in the mental health nomenclature during past wars, such as World War II, Korea and Vietnam. We believe the disorder we now call PTSD has existed since wars have been fought, although identified by other names. As a result, data on prevalence of war-related stress disorders in prior conflicts is not as accurate as that developed since the Vietnam War," Zeiss said in a statement. "The most recognizable symptoms of PTSD are emotional re-experiencing of the traumatic event, avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, emotional numbing, and increased arousal."
Symptoms of re-experiencing include vivid memories, nightmares and flashbacks. Avoidance symptoms include lack of interest in significant activities, personal estrangement and lack of emotional involvement with others. Increased arousal includes irritability and outbursts of anger, an exaggerated response when startled and the inability to fall sleep or stay asleep, Zeiss said.
Applying these criteria retrospectively to try to understand PTSD in earlier wars:
-- WWII era veterans had a rate of mental disorders of about 20 percent.
-- 15 percent of male Vietnam veterans surveyed met the criteria for PTSD and another 15 percent had met criteria for PTSD at some point since their war experience.
-- PTSD diagnosis after the Persian Gulf War was in the 9 percent to 10 percent range.